Care and Feeding

My Parent Friends Keep Asking Me to Attend the Most Horrible Kid Thing I Can Imagine

How do I make this stop?

A woman looks perturbed at a teen girl playing soccer.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by Getty Images Plus.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

I’m a childfree woman whose social circle includes close friends and family members who are parents. I love my “nieces and nephews” and enjoy spending quality time with them at their homes or at gatherings where everyone mingles (backyard cookouts, etc.).
I text with them and I buy them thoughtful, generous gifts for birthdays and holidays. One thing I do not want to do is go to their sporting events. They’re often more than an hour away and out in the cold or heat, depending on the season. Back when I was a kid playing sports, even my own parents rarely came to my games (and I truly didn’t care, as this was more normal back then). When I’m asked, I always have an excuse handy, but it’s getting to the point where I’ve politely declined these invitations from each parent at least a dozen times and people are starting to respond with, “Wow, you are the busiest person I know!” Sometimes, the only thing I’m doing is relaxing at home with my partner and pets after a stressful workweek. The truth, which I feel like I can’t say, is I just don’t want to go. This just doesn’t seem to be a valid reason to not do something these days. I’m working on establishing better boundaries, but do you have any suggestions on how to put these well-meaning folks off more permanently?

— I’m Just Not That Into Kid Sports

Dear Kid Sports,

Who says “I don’t want to” isn’t a valid reason to decline an invitation? Sure, saying it in precisely those words would be harsh (and rude), but why can’t you tell these people what you’ve just told me? “I love [insert name], I really do, and it’s a pleasure to spend time with [insert pronoun]. But I’ll level with you: I hate the thought of watching kids play [insert sport]. What I really want to do on Saturday is lie around doing nothing at home. But y’all have fun!”

Honestly, the thing that perplexes me is that your friends and extended family expect you to watch their kids play soccer, softball, etc. I have never heard of such a thing! The only people obliged to attend their games are their parents (yours notwithstanding), because you’re right:  Watching kids play sports is a special kind of torture. I can’t tell you how happy I was that my own kid’s only sport was gymnastics, which was relatively painless for me, and that all of her other activities were the kind I was glad to be in the audience for: concerts, plays, dance performances. But if she had played soccer, I would have bitten the bullet and sat in the stands. And I would never, ever have invited any of my friends. It’s because you haven’t been honest that you keep getting these infernal invitations. Just Say No.


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